October 15, 2020

Many of those waiting for their day in court will have to wait a bit longer.  The good news is some court proceedings have continued through video or telephone conferences. There are other avenues – like arbitration, mediation, or settlement – to help get your personal injury case or insurance dispute matter successfully resolved. 

We continue to live in unprecedented times, and as we approach 2021, there remains important questions about how to continue to move forward against our client’s adversaries.  Technological advancements have allowed us as trial lawyers to continue conducting court business and seek maximum compensation for our personal injury and policyholder clients for all accident and property damage claims.

The reality is, many civil jury trials will continue to go virtual for the foreseeable future.  The Florida Supreme Court is trying it out in several places, including Miami and Orlando.  The judge, clerks, attorneys, and jurors all gather in a virtual courtroom, listening to testimony remotely.  Florida courts are exploring various options to keep their dockets running smoothly but big questions remain.

Some courts are moving towards the restoration of in-person proceedings, but those will have a very different look and feel.  For example, only emergency matters, some criminal cases, and critical proceedings have been permitted to be conducted in-person.  Additionally, judges will have to identify metrics to monitor case backlogs and make recommendations on priorities while figuring out which proceedings should continue to be held remotely.

The Tampa Bay area’s circuit and county courts aim to resume having jury trials and grand jury proceedings.  All local courthouses require visitors to undergo basic wellness screenings and temperature checks.  Plans call for jury trials to resume in Hillsborough County starting October 19 and in Pinellas and Pasco counties on October 26. 

In our office’s insurance dispute arena, we are currently set for trials in mid-December, mid-January, and March of 2021.  In federal court, we have just received our first jury trial date for January 11, 2021, in the U.S District Court in the Middle District of Florida.  Whether there are enough jurors available for these trials remain to be seen. 

There will probably be a much higher percentage of no-show jurors after they receive their notices to appear for jury duty.  This is understandable, given that appearing for jury duty when you are already stressed at work raises the burden on each juror.

Suppose you receive a notice to appear for jury duty. In that case, if you have a material reason why you cannot serve, it is imperative you contact the court administrator and plead your case.  Do not be surprised if they listen but then tell you to show up anyway.  Then, at the initial conference in the courthouse, you can explain to the judge why you should be excused. 

Courts may consider whether you are responsible for another person (child care, elder care, etc.) but the excuse, “my boss won’t like me missing work” probably won’t persuade the judge, as the judge may then offer to call your boss and tell them the importance of this civic duty.  When judges make the offer to “call your boss,” most people decline and accept their fate for the week they will miss work.  If you must serve, it is against the law for your boss to fire you for that reason, but we all know, in a smaller work environment, it does not mean you won’t get pressured by your boss to attempt to avoid it. 

There are specific segments of the population who have been disproportionately impacted by coronavirus.  Reports show a higher percentage of people of color get COVID-19.  Much of this is believed to be because more African Americans than Caucasians have no choice whether to work from home or return to the workplace, where they have more regular exposure to the public. 

The new normal of civil jury trials raise questions about fairness, safety, and due process in a court system that, like everything else, is affected by the coronavirus.  There is substantial data to suggest that the juries selected during the pandemic would be less diverse and not truly representative of a jury of one’s peers. Our law firm intends to be extra vigilant on this point and protect our clients’ interests, even if it means delaying any trial. 

Corless Barfield Trial Group is here to answer your questions about personal injury and property damage cases, and how the COVID pandemic may impact the court system or your access to justice.  Call us anytime at 813-258-4998.

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